12. “And you shall eat it as barley cakes; and bake it using fuel of human waste in their sight.”
Human waste was considered unclean, and eating food cooked on human waste was something no Israelite should do. Yet here the LORD commands Ezekiel to do this! Ezekiel protests and gets the LORD to substitute cow dung for human dung (Ezekiel 4:14-15,) but this does not change the fact that the LORD seems initially to have commanded Ezekiel to sin.
The word for dung here is the Hebrew gelel, which is used only four times, and seems to indicate a ball of dung. This word we cannot confirm is unclean, but we do know that there is uncleanness that comes from humans from Leviticus 5:3.
3. Or if he touches human uncleanness—whatever uncleanness with which a man may be defiled, and he is unaware of it—when he realizes it, then he shall be guilty.
This verse indicates that to touch human uncleanness is to become guilty. The verse does not clearly say that dung is human uncleanness, but this seems clear from Deuteronomy 23:12-14.
12. “Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; 13. and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. 14. For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you.
Moreover, to be defiled in this way was considered sin, as is made clear from Leviticus 5:5.
5. ‘And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing;
Sin here clearly means “to miss the mark,” and not to do something immoral, as we would tend to think of the word. Nevertheless, this is called “sin,” and Ezekiel is therefore told to sin by command when he is told to cook his food on human waste. What, then, should we say about such a command?
Ultimately, I think our answer to all these issues must stem from this fact: that obeying the LORD is ultimately the greatest good, and disobeying Him the greatest sin. Samuel expresses this truth to Saul in I Samuel 15:22-23.
22. So Samuel said:
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He also has rejected you from being king.”
Whatever good the law might have a man do, then, the greatest good is to obey the voice of the LORD, and to rebel against Him is as the worst of sins. I would suggest, then, that obeying the word of the LORD is ultimately man’s first duty, and trumps any other consideration. If the LORD, then, commands a thing, it is always going to be a far greater sin to disobey Him than any sin that might be involved in the command. To do what the LORD says to you, moreover, is always more important than what He might have said to others in the past.
Having made this last statement, however, I want to emphasize the fact that God has ceased speaking directly to men as He did in the past, and today speaks to His people only through His Word. Let no one say that he disobeys the Word of God because he has received some direct revelation from God that trumps it. This is the excuse of a scoundrel!
Not only so, but I would emphasize that regarding things like clean and unclean foods, these things were from the beginning not a moral issue, but were only righteousness or sin because God had commanded these rules in the first place. The Lord makes this clear through Paul in Romans 14:14.
14. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Paul makes it clear that nothing is unclean of itself, which means that nothing is inherently unclean. Therefore, the reason some foods were clean and some were unclean was just because God said so. He gave the command, and this made things clean or unclean. From the time God said it, it was now unclean, and to eat what God had said was unclean was therefore a sin. God, however, could change this at any time, and things that had been declared unclean could be declared clean again.
Now God did not actually tell Ezekiel that the food he was to eat cooked over human dung was going to be clean for him. In fact, the point of the illustration God was making through Ezekiel’s actions depended on these foods being considered unclean, as we can see in Ezekiel 4:13.
13. Then the LORD said, “So shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, where I will drive them.”
Yet the fact remains that the LORD had commanded Ezekiel to eat this unclean food, and to obey the command of the LORD could never be considered a sinful act. The reason Ezekiel should not have eaten such food before this time was because the LORD had commanded against it. Now, since the LORD had commanded him to do it, it would have been just as right for him to eat this food as it would have been wrong for him to eat it prior to this command.
We cannot ignore the fact that Ezekiel never actually ate bread that was defiled by cooking it on human waste. Yet the reason is because Ezekiel begged the LORD not to force him to do this. We can see this in Ezekiel 4:14-15.
14. So I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth till now; I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth.”
15. Then He said to me, “See, I am giving you cow dung instead of human waste, and you shall prepare your bread over it.”
This does not prove that it actually would have been wrong for Ezekiel to eat bread cooked over human dung, however. What this shows us is that the LORD is a God Who is in relationship with His people. He is not hard and unmoving, having determined everything that is to be in advance, and never wavering from it. Rather, He is a God Who hears the requests of His people, and is willing to change His plans or make a substitute, at least in certain cases, when they request it. The LORD acquiesced to Ezekiel’s sensibilities, and did not make him cook on human dung. This does not change the fact that it would have been fine for him to do so, however, since the LORD had commanded it.